The United Nations says 117 million students worldwide are still out of school due to the coronavirus pandemic that began more than a year-and-a half ago.
In a statement Thursday, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said the number of students who have yet to return to the classroom represents about 7.5% of the global student population.
“We know that the longer schools stay closed, the more dramatic and potentially irreversible the impact on children’s well-being and learning, especially for the most vulnerable and marginalized,” said Assistant UNESCO Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini.
Giannini said it is “encouraging” that many governments are working to safely reopen schools but added, “Our utmost and urgent aim must be to reopen schools everywhere, for all students.”
UNESCO said schools have fully reopened in 117 countries, allowing 35% of the world’s students ranging from pre-primary to secondary levels to return to the classroom. In September 2020, 16% received in-class instruction when schools in only 94 of the world’s 195 countries had reopened.
The organization said prolonged and repeated closures have caused lost learning opportunities and a rise in drop-out rates, factors that have adversely affected “the most vulnerable students disproportionately.”
Remedial and hybrid learning, teacher support and bridging the digital divide are key components of building resilient education systems, UNESCO said.
The group also said it is collaborating with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World Bank to help governments reopen schools and run programs aimed at helping students “catch up on lost learning.”
Some information in this report was provided by The Associated Press and Reuters.